Wildfire loss of forest soil C and N: Do pre-fire treatments make a difference?

TitleWildfire loss of forest soil C and N: Do pre-fire treatments make a difference?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsZhang, J, Busse, M, Wang, S, Young, D, Mattson, K
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Date Published09/2022
KeywordsLong-Term Soil Productivity study, Mixed conifer plantation, Organic matter removal, Soil compaction, technical reports and journal articles

Losses of C and N from the forest floor and top 20-cmof soil were estimated following separate severe wildfires at two Long-Term Soil Productivity sites in the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. Experimental treatments applied 20 years prior to the wildfires included factorial combinations of 1) organic matter (OM) removal following clear-cut harvesting (SO, stem only harvest, WTH, whole-tree harvest, andWTH+FF, WTH plus the forest floor removal), 2) soil compaction (three levels of intensity), and 3) with and without understory vegetation control. Wildfires caused complete losses of the forest floor in all treatments and also oxidized varying portions ofOMin the topsoil. As such, pre-fire forest floor measures were used as an estimate of forest floor C and N loss, and post-fire soil measures of C and N were compared to pre-fire soil data to estimate of mineral soil losses. Averaged over all treatments, the less-productive site that also had lesser accumulations of detritus (Wallace) lost 35.1 MgC ha−1, or 25%of its original C stores, while themoreproductive site with greater detritus (Rogers) lost 18.4 Mg C ha−1, or 20 % of its original. The SO treatments that left harvest residue on site ended up with much greater losses of C: 36 % versus 15 and 17 % for WTH and WTH + FF, respectively. The SO also yielded the largest losses (25–30 %) of C in the top 10-cm of soil. The other treatments had smaller or inconsistent effects (understory vegetation control) or no effect (soil compaction). Our results suggest that potential benefits from SO by leaving residue on site to soil C and N accumulation can also be readily eliminated by wildfire which commonly occurs at these fire-prone forest ecosystems.